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'Hair' is forever woven into two artistic lives

ST. PETERSBURG — Getting together with Corinne Broskette and Tom Stovall was like meeting a pair of idols from my youth. In the summer of 1968, I listened over and over again to the Broadway cast album of Hair. • Now, more than 40 years later, I was chatting with two of the people who were in the musical when it was at the forefront of a revolution in American theater and society. • "We were flower children,'' Broskette said one afternoon last week as she and Stovall reminisced at a table behind the set of American Stage's production of Hair in Demens Landing. • "Every time you hear any one of the songs, it just brings back so much emotion,'' Stovall said. "It doesn't take much to get you back there.''

Impressively, Stovall can still reel off the lyrics to the hippie anthem Hair: "long, beautiful, shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen, long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, down-to-there hair.''

Beginning in 1968, Broskette, now 63, was in Hair for four years in productions in Los Angeles, Mexico, Chicago, Las Vegas and on tour. She played the female leads of Jeanie and Sheila and other roles. She was in a 1969 Playboy spread headlined "The Girls of Hair.''

Stovall, 60, played Claude, the hippie who is drafted into the Army, and other roles in the Broadway production in 1970 and 1971. He left Hair to be in the original cast of another youth culture smash, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Today, Broskette is executive director of the Venue Theatre and Actor Studio, which she co-founded in 1992 and operates from a storefront space in Pinellas Park. Stovall, who grew up in St. Petersburg, is receiving his B.A. from Eckerd College this spring, having returned to earn his degree some 40 years after he first attended the school. He has been involved in various artistic projects through the years, perhaps most prominently as a painter of murals on water towers and other unlikely locations.

Broskette, who grew up outside Buffalo, N.Y., credits Hair as a major influence on her life. "I was a little girl from a hick town. What did I know?'' she said. "It did shape a lot of who we were to become, what our political views are, what our activism is on social issues.''

Stovall fondly remembers the Biltmore Theatre (now the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre), the intimate Broadway house where Hair played for four years. "The Biltmore was such a womb, such a cocoon, a haven,'' he said. "You'd open those stage doors and you didn't have any idea what was going to be behind them, but you knew it was a safe place.''

More memories from Hair:

• Actors in the Los Angeles production would go up on the roof of the Aquarius Theatre during intermission to smoke pot.

• Cast members were paid an extra $15 a week if they appeared in the nude scene.

• "We were not very well liked,'' Broskette said of the Hair touring company, recalling being stopped on the street by police in Las Vegas "just because we were hippies.''

Both Broskette and Stovall sing the praises of Tom O'Horgan, who directed Hair on Broadway, the production that became the standard version. They remain keen students of the musical.

"Every director has their own vision of the show, and every single one of them is correct,'' said Broskette, who directed Hair at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg in 2007. "I've seen a couple of bad productions, but I've never seen one that didn't stir me.''

Former cast members keep in touch. Stovall and Broskette went to a big reunion of Hair alumni at the La MaMa theater in New York in 2005.

"We were family 40 years ago, and we're still family,'' Broskette said.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

'Hair' is forever woven into two artistic lives 04/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2010 12:34pm]

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